Startups and trust: how to win over customers

I’m interested in why people trust some startups and not others. With a new business there’s no established brand, no track record and very little (if any) trust.

Here are 5 ways a startup can instil confidence in their service.

A leap into the unknown? credit

1. Self-regulation

I’ve used Airbnb both as a host and guest, and their growth since starting in 2008 is pretty remarkable. Central to their success has been the fostering of trust between complete strangers from different parts of the world. They even have a ‘Trust & Safety’ department:

“Our work takes a unique blend of vigilance, ingenuity, adaptability, and empathy.”

One of the things that struck me as a bit odd about booking a room on Airbnb was that I had to introduce myself. This wasn’t for my benefit, but rather to put the host at ease. Guests are coming into their home and if the host knows more about them, it’s (hopefully) going to put them at ease.

After the stay, hosts and guests review each other in a star rating system, and this form of self or user-regulation - which Uber also use - lays a sturdy foundation on which the company can grow. It means they can monitor their platform, weed out any bad eggs and address problems straight away.

Their Co-Founder Joe Gebbia’s TED talk on how the company designs their service for trust is well worth a watch.


2. Execute on one thing

It’s worth avoiding the startup trap of offering a range of products and services to hoover up as much business as possible. We’re subjected to so much noise and advertising throughout our day that a concise message about what you offer with a simple action is more likely to break through.

Take Casper as one example. When they launched, they offered one product which was the perfect mattress. I first slept on a Casper mattress in New York and it’s the best nights sleep I’ve ever had. They now offer sheets and pillows, but it was a long time coming and they executed extremely well on one thing first, before branching out.

Focus on the mattress. credit

Closer to home, there’s an incredible bakery on the canals in Amsterdam called Van Stapele. They offer just one cookie with a melting white chocolate centre, bake it in-house and there’s always a queue.

Their focus on one quality product continues to pay off.

3. Social proof

Certain triggers need to be hit for people to trust your service. They vary enormously, from testimonials to independent reviews, press articles, awards, industry badges, social media presence, personal messaging, UX (user experience) and people will weight these factors differently. If one of these social proofs is missing, it can mean the difference between a potential customer booking with you or not.

There’s an opportunity at the outset to ensure your brand has personality.

What you lack in a recognised brand can be compensated for with exciting and emotive experiences at different marketing touch-points. Love it or hate it, ‘wackaging’ certainly helped Innocent Smoothies stand out from the crowd.

4. Incentives

Incentives alone won’t instil trust with new users, but combined with a great first user experience, it could help large swathes of people considering your service get across the start line. Dropbox went from 100,000 to 4m users in little over a year by offering 16GB of free storage to users who successfully invited their friends to sign-up.

I’m much more inclined to listen to my friends’ recommendations when it comes to new services to try. Pair that with an incentive of some kind, and when done right, it can be one of the most cost-effective ways to convince new users to join.


5. Hire a team that trusts each other

If there is transparency within a startup, both trust and a company culture can grow. This goes a long way in making sure the business holds itself accountable, listens to feedback and delivers on its promises.

Ultimately, those startups that deliver on their promises will, over time, gain the upper hand.

So there you have it. 5 ways startups can instil trust in new users. What other ways do you think are important?